The Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears square off tonight in a game with fairly significant midseason playoff implications. The Bears sit at 4-3 and are a half game back of Atlanta for one of the two NFC wildcard spots. They are in the same division as the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, so winning the division is unlikely at this point.
The Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in the midst of a resurgence that has them back in the thick of the playoff chase. With a win they would be two games back of the New York Giants in the NFC East. They would also climb to a game back of the Falcons for a wild card spot and hold a potential tiebreaker over the Chicago Bears heading into the second half of the season.
If the Eagles can climb back from their early season struggles and grab a playoff spot, they immediately become one of the more dangerous teams in January. Teams can beat them, but their accumulation of talent makes them very intriguing. I think the Eagles and Packers are the two most dangerous teams in the NFC come playoff team. Well, after the 49ers, of course! But those are two teams I would not be excited to face in January.
For those that are looking for some 49ers discussion as well during Monday Night Football, I've posted Jim Harbaugh's Monday press conference transcript after the jump. Enjoy!
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - November 7, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
What has been the key to getting these guys to play so well going back East? It's not often that you see a team that can go from West to East or East to West and win more than one or two games a year and you guys have won all of your games so far?
"I don't know if I could just come up with one key. Playing good football. A good football team."
When the Niners were really good in the late 80s and early 90s, rain, snow, overnight trips, nothing bothered them because they were a good football team. In the end when they started slipping, they started complaining. Don't you find, if it's a good team, everything else becomes incidental? Just go out and play football. Early starts, late starts, all that stuff.
"I think so. Yeah."
RB Frank Gore said he had a precautionary X-Ray on his ankle. You think everything is good to go?
"We'll see. Talked to Frank today and X-Rays were good and Frank was feeling good, he was feeling like Frank. You look at the film and watched during the game and saw the same thing. That was a tough physical game for everybody on our football team. We knew it was going to be that way going in and it played out that way. There are some guys that are definitely getting some treatments, got some bumps and bruises today. But, our guys will work hard at that and get themselves ready to go."
DT Ray McDonald also thinks he's a go this week.
"He's been working through something and we'll see where he's at this week. But, it was that, it was a physical ball game. They're like that a lot of times in the NFL and this particularly was a physical game offensively, it was defensively, it was special teams. Our guys played a physical brand of football ourselves in this game. One thing that really popped out off the film was the aggressive, hard-hitting tackling. Thought we really tackled well in this ball game, both from the secondary and the linebacker position. Up front we were not giving up yards after contact in this game. [S] Dashon [Goldson], [S] Donte Whitner, [LB] Patrick [Willis] and [LB] NaVorro [Bowman] played extremely well. So did [LB] Ahmad [Brooks]. [DT] Ricky [Jean Francois] played extremely well; Ricky Jean had a good game. So did [DT] Justin [Smith]. [DT] Isaac [Sopoaga] was taking on double teams and doing a great job there. Just across the board, I thought contact was made and tackles were made. Hope that popped out to you, too. Was proud of our guys for that."
One of the things that Frank seems to do so well, particularly on that first run, is kind of see just a small crevice and go through there. Have you seen a back who's done that any better than Frank does?
"I can't say that I have. The positions and the angles that he gets in and his ability to get low to the ground... you see it in person and it's moving so fast that you really get appreciation for it when you can slow it down and look at him, get in through the narrowest of holes and margins. Another thing I do is pick out pictures each week and Frank is always in some amazing positions, legs going one way, upper body at a 90-degree angle the opposite way. It's amazing. There's been times where he has gone into real small crevices in the interior of the line and he's able to run so low that I think sometimes he doesn't get the full yardage on his runs because I don't think it's humanly possible that a guy to could be that low and still not have his knees on the ground. I don't think he always gets everything that he's run for. It's shown up a couple times on the goal line. But no, I have not seen a guy that can get in those kinds of body positions and get that low to the ground and still be moving that fast."
What were some of the pictures you put up this week?
"I'm still going through them. That pretty much stands out every week. There are certain guys that every picture taken of them, they're in some kind of unique, good, athletic position. There are other guys that it's rare to find a very (good photo), like me."
Did FB Bruce Miller make the photos?
"We're still going through it. Bruce has been on a few, absolutely."
When you drafted him, and I know we talked to you about it months ago, but what told you that he was going to be a quick learner and be able to handle that position switch as a rookie? Is he a feel-good story in your locker room right now?
"Yes, he really is. He's a real good learner and I don't take any credit for drafting Bruce. We had a scout, Matt Malaspina, who really pounded the old first on the table for Bruce and gave a great recommendation and felt like he was what we were describing that we wanted in a fullback. Lot of credit to Matt on that. The other thing about Bruce is he's a great learner, as I said, and [Running Backs Coach] Tom Rathman, (we) really need to give a lot of credit to Tom for the job that he's doing this year. You see Frank, he's always coaching Frank. Frank is always listening to Tom and I think Bruce and [RB] Kendall [Hunter] really see that example, that Frank is always listening to Tom and Tom is always coaching Bruce and he's always coaching Kendall and they follow that example very well. Here's a converted defensive end who's now playing fullback, no offseason; Tom Rathman's got him playing outstanding football. Kendall has come in and done a terrific job. Those youngsters on a football game, because they are involved in the pass, they're involved in protection, they're involved in route running, and they're involved in the running game fully because they're running the ball and they're blocking. So much to digest when you're a running back or a fullback and all the different alignments that a fullback can line up in in our offense that it's been learned and it's been taught, just great coaching by Tom Rathman, the intelligent backs that we have that have great study habits and then great ability as well. That's a heck of a job by Tom and the fellas."
In speaking to Bruce, he said his whole mentality was to come in as a defensive end or linebacker in the NFL and it wasn't until the scout, Matt, contacted him and said ‘we're looking at you as fullback' and that day with no preparation he had to run routes and go out and do that. How rare is it then for somebody like Bruce to do what he's done, how many players could do that?
"There's others. First person that comes to mind is Erik Lorig who we had at Stanford who was a defensive end his whole career and now is a fullback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
But can you imagine that a kid is drafted and has a plan here, that's a daunting task isn't it, to work in the middle of a lockout and he's not going to get the practices, to have to switch positions and now for him to be doing what he's doing?
"We can all appreciate that. I know I certainly do, it sounds like you do. To be playing a position for four or five years in college and that position in high school and now you're going to go to the highest level, around the greatest athletes, the toughest guys, and throw a position switch in there as well. He's been all about it from the first time we talked right before we drafted him and told him what our plans were and our intentions were for him and he wanted to do whatever we thought was best and however he could help the team and he's had that attitude since we got together. The fact that he's embraced it; it's helping our ball club. I don't think he's ever run underneath a pass, in a game, had to catch it over the shoulder in that kind of situation. He's done it in practice, but first time he's ever done it in a game. He just ran under it, caught it and scored a touchdown. Looked cool as a cucumber doing it."
A lot of these players have all heard about the five Super Bowls, the winning tradition. The fact that Tom Rathman was here, does he bridge the gap between that winning tradition that he was a part of and can he keep these guys grounded on what's happening to them now?
"He does a great job of that. He really goes. There's that link to that great era and where we are right now. I think it's a perfect way to phrase it and he does it in a very good way, respectful to both, those teams that he played on and these teams that he's coaching. Always wise words from Tom. He's a ball coach. The thing I admire about him is he never takes a break coaching. He is coaching all the time. He's coaching in meetings, he's coaching on the practice field, he's coaching on the way out to walk-through, coaching in the lobby, coaching in the hallways here. His meetings start half hour before everybody else's do. It's just great to see the consummate team guy that Tom Rathman is."
So you played the same time as him, is he as intense as a coach as he was as a player?
"Yes. There's no question about it. I think his intensity is at 10-tense. If there's another rung, he's at the top of it. He'll probably find another rung, knowing Tom, he'll find the 11th."
Have you gotten a chance to talk to league about an explanation for that simulating the snap count penalty and what exactly happened on that play?
What did they tell you?
"All conversations with the league and the clubs are privileged and confidential, but satisfactorily explained. I have an understanding of what to tell our players and we'll move on from there."
Are you in a situation where on a play where you're attempting a shift like that, maybe your guy has to tell the referee ahead of time that, "hey this is what we're about to do, be on the lookout for it so don't call a penalty on us?"
"No, I think the game should be played and officiated without anybody thinking of what the intent is or may be or without explanations. That's the way football is..."
I'm just saying if it's like a version kind of like reporting as an eligible receiver. Something that's not very common.
"What are you trying to say? Report in that we're about to make a shift and it's our intent here, ‘hey, we're going to shift here.' No, that's not football. It's not realistic. I understand your point but football is football and there's ways to play it and there's ways to officiate it and everybody does the best that they possibly can to do that. And that's all you can expect."
What was the reason for going to Arlington National Cemetery with the team on Saturday?
"Just thought it would be a neat experience for the fellas and myself, our team. We were practicing very near there and appreciate the folks over at Arlington for accommodating our team and for making us feel so welcome. Our guys were really moved. They really appreciated what they were witnessing, what they were able to be a part of. It was a good, positive thing for us."
Have you been there before?
"I have, yes."
When you look at the second half against the Browns, as well as this game, only one touchdown in those six quarters. It seems like the offense had trouble getting into the red-zone. What is it struggling with that you'd like to see improve?
"I think we've struggled getting it into the red zone. We've had good drives. This football team has put together some very good offense and we're not getting everything that's out there. We're not getting every first down that's there, we're not making every play that's available. I think there's more there for us and we all feel that. We'll see if we can't keep reeling that in, those opportunities. It gives us things to get better at, to coach up and practice up."
Here at midseason, how would you assess where you guys are right now as far as what you were hoping to feel when you came in and where you thought you would be at this point?
"I really don't assess it. Is that the question? How would we assess it?"
Yeah, what would you think is the... how were you hoping to feel when you came in this being your first season, here you are at midseason. Did you have a goal for where you would want to be at midseason as far as what you feel here with the team?
"We would have liked to have been 8-0 at the midseason point. But, no, we didn't have any... our expectations are to have a great week of practice this week to get ready for the ball game coming up. Pleased with the way our guys are preparing each week and feel confident in that. But we didn't have an expectation other than day to day."
You said last week ‘we'll look in December how many we need, where we're at'. A lot of the guys in your locker room have never even tasted the cusp of being a division winner or a playoff clinching team and they want to control it themselves. They don't want anybody's help, they want to do it as soon as possible. Is that something where now you can say okay let's get this done, let's wrap up one thing that we need and keep moving forward? Are you open to that, let's clinch it in November?
"We'll just kind of keep doing what we've been doing and that's focusing on what's important now, having great expectation for today's game-planning, for tomorrow's meetings, tomorrow's workout, Wednesday's practice. That's the way we've been going about it. No need to look ahead, and have expectations because we didn't when we started. We didn't say ‘here's what our record needs to be at the mid-way point' or predicting what would happen or what the record would be. We just take care of what's important now. We've got a lot of questions to answer and keep asking ourselves and keep working toward a good game plan this week. That's what's important."
What are some of those questions you need to keep asking yourself?
"Well we've stated them a bunch of times. You want me to go back through them? I mean there's a lot of them."
You don't need to. I didn't know if there were any new ones.
"Okay. This ball game is going to be a great test for our team. I think our guys all pretty much know and they're going to embrace that challenge. Giants are an outstanding football team, everything we've seen so far is well-documented. This is a physical team, both lines are extremely good, playing very well. We feel we're good on both sides of the line and playing well. Those are going to be two opposing wills that are going to meet in this football game. Two quarterbacks that are playing extremely well, playing at the top of their games. Two outstanding running backs. Physical defensive secondaries and linebackers. Special teams for the Giants is very physical, disciplined, fundamentally sound unit. We feel that way about our guys. There's an excitement that's brewing right now already for this contest. We'll do everything we can to get mentally and physically and emotionally motivated to play in this ball game. I think it'll be a great game and a great test."
You mentioned last night ‘hey I don't care what the run distribution and the pass distribution is'.
"I didn't say that."
Yeah, I think you did.
"No, I didn't. I said we strive to be a 50% run, 50% pass team and that's what we strive for."
Let's go with that one. But if you're running more, isn't that an indication that you're winning? The Bill Walsh teams that won Super Bowls, they always ran more than they passed. If you're running more, you're running out the end of the game and isn't that an indication that things are going well when you're running more than you're throwing?
"It can be, definitely. When you're a score or two scores ahead in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, you would tend to run the ball more. That could be an indication of things going well."
Two of the best units on your team so far have been your running backs and your defensive linemen and those are two units that you've had carryover with the coaches with Tom Rathman and Defensive Line Coach Jim Tomsula. Do you think that's a coincidence or do you think the continuity has helped those groups?
"I think we've got good coaches on our entire staff. Some that were here last year, some that have been new to the staff. Every single one of them, we're really pleased with. Couple other things to point out, [S] C.J. Spillman had a very good game on the special teams. There's no statistic for how many blockers you used up on kickoff coverage or punt coverage, but he used up probably six to nine in this game. Sometimes two or three on one single play. Nobody will know about those kind of things outside of our meeting room, but we're getting some tremendous effort out of a lot of guys. [CB] Tramaine Brock was just back in his first game. One on one as a punt holdup guy is one of the hardest tasks for one player football in the game, did a great job. [K] David Akers, another four-for-four in the field goals. Now I see you nodding your heads, you like that low-hanging fruit don't you? ‘Oh four-for-four, that's a statistic we can mark.' He's doing a great job. Thought [QB] Alex Smith played extremely well. He was on right from the beginning of that ball game. I know we talked about it yesterday, being able to secure the ball, not turn the ball over, uncanny quality that he has. That was a big hit, most guys would have been dislodged from that ball. 70% passer again, close to 200-yards throwing the ball, touchdown, no interceptions. I think he's playing extremely good football. Winning football. Kind of like a pitcher in baseball, you judge them by the record. I guess you're done with me so I'll move on."